Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC
(born August 30, 1912) is a New Zealand
who served as a British agent during the later part of World War II
. She became a leading figure in the maquis
groups of the French Resistance
and became one of the Allies
' most decorated servicewoman of the war.
Background & Early Life
Born in Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand
on 30 August 1912, her family moved to Sydney, Australia
in 1914. She was two years old at the time, and the youngest and most independent of six children. Later, her father left the family to return to New Zealand, leaving her mother to raise the children. In Sydney, she attended the North Sydney Girls High School
. At the age of 16, she ran away from home and worked as a nurse. With £200 she received from the will of an aunt considered to be the 'disgrace' of her mother's family, she journeyed to London
, then New York
where she trained herself as a journalist. In the 1930s she worked in Paris
. Later she worked for Hearst
correspondent. In 1935 she witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler
, and saw the violence towards Jews, gays, gypsies, and protesters on the Paris
streets and in Vienna
Wartime Service & Special Operations Executive
In 1935, she met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca, whom she married on November 30, 1939. She was living in Marseille, France
invaded. After the fall of France, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. The Gestapo
called her the "White Mouse". The Resistance had to be very careful with her missions as her life was in constant danger and the Gestapo were tapping her phone and intercepting her mail.
By 1943, she was the Gestapo's most-wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head. When the network was betrayed in December 1943, she had to flee Marseille. Her husband Henri stayed behind where later, unknown to Nancy, he would be captured, tortured and executed by the Germans. Nancy had been arrested in Toulouse, but was released four days later. Her sixth attempt to cross the Pyrenees to Spain succeeded. She went to Britain and joined the Special Operations Executive.
On the night of April 29-30, 1944, Nancy Wake parachuted into the Auvergne and became a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat. She coordinated resistance activity prior to the Normandy Invasion and recruited more members. She also led attacks on German installations and local Gestapo HQ in Montluçon.
From April 1944 to the complete liberation of France, her 7000 maquisards fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1400 casualties. Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit; amply demonstrated when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him raising the alarm during a raid. During a 1990s television interview, when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Wake simply drew her finger across her throat. On another occasion, in order to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid, Nancy Wake rode a bicycle for more than 100 miles through several German checkpoints.
After the war, she received the George Medal
, the U.S. Medal of Freedom
, the Médaille de la Résistance
and thrice the Croix de Guerre
. She also learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war she worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry
attached to embassies of Paris and Prague
. After marrying John Forward she returned to Australia.
Conservative in politics, in the 1949 and 1951 Australian federal elections Wake stood as the Liberal candidate against the opposition leader, Labor's H.V. Evatt, for the Sydney seat of Barton. She narrowly lost both. In the former election she recorded a 13 per cent swing against Evatt. In the 1958 election, there was a 2.9% swing against him. Barton was now a very marginal seat, and rather than risk facing Wake again, Evatt moved to the safe seat of Hunter. In 1966 Nancy once more ventured into politics, on this occasion standing as the Liberal candidate for the Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. Again, despite recording a swing of 6.9% against the sitting Labor candidate, she was unsuccessful.
In 1985, Wake wrote her autobiography The White Mouse. In 1988, she received the French title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. John Forward died in 1997; the couple had no children.
In February 2004, she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, and in April 2006, she was awarded the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association's highest honour, the RSA Badge in Gold. Nancy Wake's medals are on display in the Second World War gallery at the Australian War Memorial.
As of 2008, she is living in a rest home in London.
List of Honours
Wake's story was told in a 1987 telemovie entitled simply Nancy Wake
(released as "True Colors" in the USA).
- Braddon, Russell. Nancy Wake: The Story of a Very Brave Woman, Quality Book Club, Cassell & Co. Ltd:London, 1956.
- Braddon, Russell. Nancy Wake, Pan Books, London; Sydney, 1958.
- Braddon, Russell. Woman in Arms: The Story of Nancy Wake, Collins, London, 1963.
- FitzSimons, Peter. Nancy Wake: A Biography of Our Greatest War Heroine, HarperCollins, Pymble, New South Wales, 2002,ISBN 0-00-714401-6.
- Wake, Nancy. Autobiography of the Woman the Gestapo Called the White Mouse, Macmillan: South Melbourne, 1985, ISBN 0-7251-0755-3.
- Electoral results for the Division of Barton
- Electoral results for the Division of Kingsford Smith
- "Son and heir in Labor stronghold", Sydney Morning Herald, October 12, 2006 * "Finally, Nancy gets her gong", Sydney Morning Herald, March 3, 2004